BY TRISHA SAKHUJA
Food insecurity is the reality of one in 10 Queens residents, according to a report, “Superstorm of Hunger: Lingering Shortfalls Expose a Tale of Two Food Cities,” unveiled by the New York City Coalition Against Hunger at the Center of Hope International Church on Nov. 27 in Long Island City.
The report also concludes one in eight children in Queens live in food insecure households.
As of yet, the report does not reflect the impact of the recent large-scale cuts in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, but Berg said those cuts will make the situation much worse.
Joel Berg, executive director of the Coalition, said low-income people especially faced a tidal wave of pain after the economic downturn and Superstorm Sandy.
“Now that the official recession is over and the flood waters have receded, we can clearly see that New York is still suffering from a tale of two food cities,” Berg said. “While the wealthy have better gourmet food than ever, one in six of our neighbors are struggling against hunger.”
New York City’s food pantries and soup kitchens faced an increased demand of 10 percent in 2013, on top of increases of five percent in 2012.
In Queens, 43 percent of feeding agencies reported not having enough food to meet current demand, while 86 percent of responding agencies reported an increase in the number of people they served over the past year.
Abigael Burke, food pantry coordinator at Hour Children said, as of Nov. 1, deep cuts in SNAP benefits will affect nearly two million New Yorkers, more than half of them being working families with children.
“When it comes to combating hunger, SNAP is our first line of defense,” Burke said. “Emergency food programs like my own should be the last life of defense, however, our lines continue to get longer each week.”
Burke said last week, Hour Children served more than 450 families. Increased numbers means there is a lack of staple food items and fresh produce on the pantry shelves.
“Charity cannot do it alone, we need Congress to step up it up and makes sure no American goes hungry,” Burke added.
Due to the federal sequestration and other cuts, the main source of federal operating funds for such agencies has been cut by nearly half since 2009. Consequently, according to reports, nearly 45 percent of the food pantries say they lack sufficient resources to meet the growing demand and 46 percent said they were forced to turn people away, reduce the amount of food distributed per person, or limit their hours of operation because they lacked sufficient resources in 2013.
Berg said this data should provide federal, State and City officials with a clarion call to significantly ramp up government efforts to combat poverty and hunger, such as universal pre-K.
“If the City were to enact Mayor-elect de Blasio’s plan to slightly raise taxes on the wealthiest to pay for universal pre-K, not only would that decrease poverty in the long-term, it would also immediately reduce child hunger because pre-K programs provide nutritious meals funded by the federal government,” Berg said.
Elected officials stand with the Coalition, voicing their concerns over the shortage of food supplies at local pantries.
“Taking food off the plates of the needy to fatten up the rich is not the American way,” State Sen. Jose Peralta (D-East Elmhurst) said. “We can’t allow House Republicans to cut deeper into a program that provides most beneficiaries with little more than $4 a day for food.”
“The release of this new data further underscores the critical need for nutrition programs like SNAP,” U.S. Rep. Joe Crowley (D-Jackson Heights) said. “Millions of New Yorkers rely on it to put food on their tables, and any cuts to the program would be devastating. As it is, countless families turn to local organizations like community food banks to meet their needs, but even they are operating with limited resources.”
COHI’s Bread of Life Food Pantry serves the residents of Queensbridge, Ravenswood and Astoria Houses.
The full report is available at nyccah.org/hungersurvey.
Reach Trisha Sakhuja at (718) 357-7400, Ext. 128, firstname.lastname@example.org, or @Tsakhuja13.